Pilots' careers finish relatively early, leaving them with no credit for accumulated knowledge and experience beyond that learned during the period of their licences. A postgraduate level of education in the aviation industry would be attractive to some motivated licence-holders who want future employment, early positions as management pilots, or the ability to transfer their experience in the event of loss of licence.

The International Civil Aviation University (ICAU) is introducing a first for the aviation industry: self-paced, distance-learning to masters-degree standard for operating airline pilots. Courses in its first faculty, flight operations, begin in March. The ICAU claims that international civil aviation has not previously offered such a broad-based, structured and advanced educational option. Courses are to be modular and therefore adaptable to multi-disciplinary applications.

The university is Swiss-registered, but based in Melbourne, Australia. It is funded from private sources to avoid any appearance of national or political bias. The distance-learning course is not expensive; total fees will be about $7,000, including all material and invigilated examinations. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) supports the initiative, and scholarships will be offered to about 1% of students - particularly those candidates from developing nations.

The difference between this course and others (flying schools, home licence studies or university aviation-degree courses which include ab initio pilot training) is that it is aimed at staff who are already operational in civil aviation. The end product is accreditation and recognition within the industry.

Some major airlines are prepared to fully support or subsidise pupils, says the university. They recognise that civil aviation includes constantly evolving technologies, in a transport system where flight operations - control and flightcrew functions - are interdependent.

Broad industry involvement and representation is a strong feature within the ICAU - to guide the development of curricula and course material, ensure subject and course relevance, and to underpin long-term viability and growth. "Interest from many segments of civil air transport, in various countries, includes that from manufacturers, government organisations and consultants," says Capt Derry Pearce, the university's chief executive officer. "Theirs is a strong endorsement of both the concept and the need for the ICAU."

The university board includes members from Germany, the UK, and the USA, supported by curriculum advisory panels for each faculty. Deans from Finland and Singapore reinforce the international aspect. Courses, operated from Melbourne, will be accessible through a 24h hotline, and from regional centres.


The course

The Flight Operations MSc course is designed to take four years, involving 1,200h of home study. Entry qualification to this faculty is a valid Airline Transport Pilot's Licence. As there is no suitable undergraduate qualification, waivers and exemptions are not envisaged. The degree course could form a component in pre-command training, Pearce says, but is not proposed as a substitute for it.

Student communications will use hard copy, CD-ROM and the internet. No travel, classroom exercises or residential requirements are foreseen. Internet forums are intended to include a range of the most frequently asked questions for new students. They are also expected to be used for feed-back on the clarity, coherence and relevance of course material. Course material is in English, with glossaries available in the six official ICAO languages. A library is being assembled.

Study is supplemented by assignments and, over the final two years, by completion of a research project which would have been approved by ICAU and conducted individually or within a group. A selection of five different papers will be available for written examinations, which will be invigilated under reciprocal arrangements between universities.

Subject material has been assembled and agreed by industry professionals in 20 countries. Management and business acumen will be studied, as well as technical subjects. All faculties include four schools: Technology and Performance; Industry Regulation; Human Resources; Aviation Business and Economics. Individual subjects in the Flight Operations faculty total about 60 during the four years.

The plan is to review the curriculum at least every two years to ensure that it stays up to date. Past graduates will be offered a continuing programme of professional development, through single-subject certificates. A two-year postgraduate diploma course is also planned.

In the UK, the Royal Aeronautical Society, where the ICAU was launched in 1996, says that it will endorse the university.

Pearce underlines interdependence in aviation safety: "We are only as safe as everyone else's skills allow. What is needed is not just a company or national approach to safety, but a global one. For our part, by being open to students from every country, the university aims to improve standards internationally."

Source: Flight International